Tag Archives: Looking for more

Breaking the Code v. 4

Often we invite people to church and want and expect that they’ll feel comfortable in this place where we go to worship as a body of believers.

I’ll never forget my friend Joe (not his name) who was having trouble in his home and Image result for worshipgenuinely looking for answers. So I invited him to come to church with us and he agreed that maybe he’d find something there that would comfort and calm his storm. We walked in together and found a seat. Everything was good. Then the music started and everyone stood up. One song after another and by the middle of the third song, Joe’s eyes were as big as a full moon and it was obvious that he had no idea what was going on. I had not done a good job of preparing Joe for what was going to happen. Joe gave it one more chance, but could not absorb a service clearly aimed at mature believers. To this day I pray that God will have used that experience for good in Joe’s journey.

We Christians have this thing we do that is called worship. But what is worship? The first usage of this term is found in Genesis 22 where Abraham took his son Isaac up to the mountain to worship. The word means to prostrate one’s self before a divine being, or in Abraham’s case, to submit himself to the will of God. Other implications include to give reverence to, to pay honor to, to bow down humbly. From these various phrases, we come to understand that when we worship, we are bowing our hearts to God’s holiness and majesty. From this, we see the attitude with which we gather together each week for worship.

Worship is more than just the musical portion of the service, yet we have “worship leaders/pastors” who lead only in the music intended for us to sing praises to the Lord our God. I have concerns about this being another area where our terminology is being holy-hijacked by a group of well-meaning people. The worship portion of the service has come to mean the singing of songs of praises to God. The Lord gave us His hymnal in the book of Psalms to show that He wanted us to sing to Him. He tells us to “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all the earth.” (Psalm 100:1) Many of the songs we sing today contain key phrases from these ancient Psalms.

In many churches, we continue our worship by remembering the work of Christ through His death and resurrection, in the act of communion. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 tells us, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Some churches celebrate communion every week, some monthly, and some quarterly. But nearly all Christian churches celebrate communion as a part of their worship.

Bringing our tithes and offerings is another part of our declaring His provision and goodness by returning a portion of the blessings He has given to us. Malachi 3:8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. And in 1 Corinthians 16:2 we read, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” We make a statement of honor and reverence when we return to Him a portion of what He has provided for us.

Listening to the teaching of His word, the Bible is another part of our act of worship. Something that those who love God want to hear is what He has to say to us as recorded by those He chose to receive His words through His Spirit breathing out what they should write. 2 Timothy 3:16 assures us that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Listening to the teaching of Scripture bends our heart and will to His commands and instruction.

The worship service was somewhat described in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In chapter 3 verse 16 he writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” It is interesting to note that at the top of the list is the teaching of the word.

When you come to your next worship service keep in mind the many ways that we humble ourselves in reverence to our God. We submit to His word, we remember the work that Christ completed on the cross, we bring our tithes and offerings and we sing praises (most of us make a joyful noise) to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. (Psalm 95:6) If God is who we claim He is, He deserves our true worship, adoration, and obedience.

There are as many different styles of worship as there are churches. Find a church where the music connects your heart to God and the teaching stays true to the meaning of the Scriptures and focuses on pointing you to Jesus as the author and finisher of your faith.

Blessings!

A Window Into Eternity

These days virtual reality (VR) is an emerging technology. With this technology, we can enter another reality by wearing devices that cover our eyes and ears to deliver sights and sounds Image result for virtual realitythat make it seem that we are in a different setting or another world. It is designed for our enjoyment in experiencing an amazing sense of being in an environment that is more pleasing or more challenging. While some use in gaming, the concept is that of being in a place other than the world in which we live, another reality.

What is the desire within us to be transplanted into another reality? On one hand, some would call it escapism, others might view this desire as a continuing dissatisfaction with the status quo or with life as this world provides it. At the core of our beings we long for a world we don’t see today.

The true, not virtual, reality is that we humans were made for a very different world. The ancient prophet Isaiah wrote “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Is 43:1) Isaiah is writing that the God of the universe created and formed us and has called us by name to be his. This means that we were created and designed to be with him. The Apostle Peter writes that we are aliens and strangers here in this world. (1 Peter 2:11) 

And so it is that in the depth of our being, we long for the world for which we were made. We know intuitively that life in this world is not as it should be. If we were called by name and declared to belong to God, our longing is to be with him. The Scriptures inform us that Jesus died, rose from the grave and ascended into heaven. He has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us so that where he is, we may be there with him as well. (John 14:2-3) Our longing is to be with him for eternity.

From time to time we as believers find ourselves in places, without the assistance of VR, when we feel connected with Jesus and our place in eternity. We have a window, it seems, into the Image result for window to heavenhalls of heaven and into the place of quiet rest. Jesus invited his disciples to come away with him to a place of quiet so that they could get some rest. (Matt 6:31) These are times when we can actually sense the Presence and feel very connected with our Lord.

For me, it happens in the grand cathedrals of Europe as I sit and marvel at how the centuries-old architecture and artistry focus my attention on God, the creation, and the stories God has used to help us see him more clearly. It happens in my own church in the moment of participating in communion. It happens when I’m doing the work I was made to do. It happens when I speak with others about the hope we have of spending eternity with Christ in the new heaven and new earth. As I read the words of King David in the Psalms, I can envision Christ leading me beside the still waters in green pastures, restoring my soul.

How about you? Are you longing for that view into the world for which you were made? What are your windows into eternity? These windows require no special technology or rose colored glasses. Christ invites you to connect with him. He told us, “Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest … learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28) This rest will come as you place your faith and trust in Christ. He will give you that view into eternity with him.

He wants you to have the peace and confidence of the hope he has planted in each one of us. Join me … and then share that hope with someone else! Help them see the truth of the desires of their hearts as Christ has shared with us in the Scriptures.

Scarecrow in a Melon Patch

Where is our confidence? Where is our trust? Jesus said, do not worry about tomorrow because each day has enough trouble of its own. He told us not to worry about what we Image result for scarecrowwould wear or what we would eat. Look at the birds of the air and the flowers of the field that are beautiful to watch and to look at. We are more valuable to God than all the other parts of creation. Don’t get all hung up over something that will impress others. Who are you living for and what will all these things do for you? They won’t bring you happiness!

Many of us in the Baby Boomer generation are spending a lot of time engaging people who will help us plan to make sure our finances will last as long as we do. Many have accumulated collectibles, homes, toys, etc. that are the result of planning and playing out our personal passions. The proverb says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (15:22) And another, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (21:5) We need to know that God applauds planning.

Yet, in recent years, many have become uncertain about their security or the future of those things we’ve collected being placed in the hands of their beneficiaries. We must however keep all these things in proper perspective. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk..Do not fear them, they can do no harm nor can they do any good.” (Jer 10:5)

Our stuff is just stuff. All our collectibles may be good hobbies which keep us active and capture our interest, but the things and money that are the results of our diligent planning are just things. They are inanimate and exist in our lives much like a scarecrow which serves only to scare off the birds that would otherwise eat the fruit of the garden. The scarecrow can’t hear you. In fact if you talked to it, some might begin to wonder about you and your ‘friends’.

Jesus also said that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 19:23) That is because these things begin to own us. We allow them to become part of who we are and a path for acceptance among people. The only path for acceptance we should be pursuing is to be accepted into the kingdom of heaven by God. Another proverb on planning tells us that “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the Lord’s purpose prevails.”

Let’s not let the scarecrows run our lives. Enjoy the fruit of your diligent planning. Know that the Lord has honored your diligence for a purpose. Consider what he wants you to do with your resources to further his purposes. When we commit our lives to God, that includes our assets and resources. Let’s give it all to him and let God direct our paths.

Lots more to say on this subject, but for now, be wary of the scarecrows in your melon patch.

Cheers

Some time ago there was a television show called Cheers. The setting was a neighborhood Image result for friendshipbar and the by-line was “Where everybody knows your name.” The idea was that a wide variety of people from the neighborhood would stop in, not so much to wet their whistles, but more for the conversation that would happen there.

Having lived in eight different communities, I have to say that each city, each neighborhood, each circle of friends have brought different things to my life. There were communities within the communities. We have community with our colleagues in our work, with those in our neighborhood, and among those with whom we worship. But one is forced to ask, why do we have so many lonely people in this world? How is it that we know people, but don’t have any relationships or friends?

As humans we are made to need and to have relationships. A relationship with God first, and then relationships with each other. When we don’t have those relationships, we have a sense that something is missing. We are unique among all of creation, because we alone have the need and capacity for selective relationships.

If this is a basic part of who we are, why are so many of us lonely? Might it be that we will not give others the opportunity to love us for who we are? Might it be that we hold back feeling that we may not be accepted? Maybe it is because we live in a closed garage door world. We go to work, are cordial but not really friendly with our co-workers, then go home, drive into the garage and close the door until we start the cycle all over again.

Now, I’m not so naive to think that this isn’t a gross oversimplification. But I do think it worthwhile to consider whether there aren’t some simple things we can do to know and be known, love and be loved.

Suppose for a moment that you would pick one day in a week when you reach out to a neighbor, yes, that one that you would like to get to know, or that one that you are thinking needs a friend. What if you reached out just to invite for a cup of coffee, or you found a reason to talk to that person on the phone. The worst that could happen is that they are not available or just hang up on you. What have you lost? Nothing. You have the satisfaction of having reached out. You may have to reach out to multiple people before you get a taker. Don’t give up on inviting others into your world.

Now someone accepts your invitation. Now what? A great place to start is to ask the other person about who they are, where did they grow up, what hobbies do they have, what about their family, what makes them really happy? Perhaps there is something that you could really use their input on. Think about it. Do you really have all of life figured out? With minimal thought, there are questions we could pose. You’ll be surprised how many things you’ll find that are common concerns, common viewpoints, or common interests.

This is the beginning. The next time you see that person you greet one another, exchange pleasantries, and ask about that thing that was a concern for that person. No need to make a federal case about it. Just show the other person that you’re interested in them and the things that concern them. Even something as simple as remembering names. I met a couple in church one Sunday. A week later, they came back and I greeted them by name. This simple act made them feel like they mattered. After all, isn’t that we all want? We want to know that we matter to someone? It’s even true of God. We want to know that we matter to God. When he answers our prayers, our deepest heart cries, we then know that we matter to him.

The fact that other people know our names gives us a connection. It is the beginning of relationship. Hey, I know who you are, and it matters to me. I am blessed to live in a neighborhood community where neighbors connect at an uncommon level. We care for one another, pray for one another, have meals together, support one another in causes that are important, not necessarily to me, but to different ones. We’re learning how to carry each others’ burdens.

I write this just to encourage you to sit back to think about how you might encourage your neighbors and colleagues or even family members who have become distant. We’re all on a journey. Some make friends easily, others not so much, but we’re learning. What if you joined with that neighbor to do a good deed for someone? None of us was made to do life alone. Find a way to connect with someone who needs a friend. For all the people in this world there is no need for anyone to be lonely.

Another World?

Today I began a journey of a different sort. I disconnected from Facebook and am opting, instead, to express my thoughts on platforms that give the opportunity for legacy and Image result for sword and trowelmeaningful discourse. At the same time, I am acknowledging that I am a stranger and alien in this world (Eph 2:12-19) and that the dialog in that particular public square is more about “civilian affairs” (2Tim 2:4) than things that matter for the generations that follow, and indeed, for eternity.

Am I backing away from the public square? No. I continue to believe that we should be in the world but not of the world. Yet, as I told a dear friend, posting words of wisdom is quickly lost in the haystack of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). Those who would spread FUD without wisely discerning the truth of what they’re posting have begun to far outweigh the caring and personal touches that once were the hallmark of this platform. The vitriol has reached such a noise level that truth is impossible to discern. I believe that the rhetoric is being used by the principalities of the air to create confusion even among those who want to follow Jesus as the Truth, the Way, and the Life.

In another transition of leadership thousands of years ago, God told Joshua to be strong and courageous. (Joshua 1) He repeated this message several times until Joshua got it. God told him that I will never leave you or forsake you, so be strong and courageous. This is a message that is decried in our society today. A life with God is not a FUD life, but rather one of being strong and courageous. A life of faith requires conviction and confidence. God has told us that he has put government leaders into place (Rom 13). We can choose to believe that our God is sovereign over all of his creation … or not. If, indeed, God does rule over his creation, then what have we to fear. We should go forward being strong and courageous!

School break is a wonderful thing and it afforded me the opportunity to have coffee yesterday with two of my grandsons. We just hung out and talked about life. One is a gifted writer who will be a spokesman for others one day. He writes with a passion not often found in today’s young people. The other is three years further on in life and looking for answers on such things as work/life balance. Wow! Where have the years gone? This is a world to which I am choosing to dedicate my energies. Teaching the next generation what it means to live a life that is pleasing to God. Christ’s half-brother James, led by the Holy Spirit, wrote these words in chapter 1 of James, “26  If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. The prophet Micah wrote similarly in chapter 6 verse 8, “He has told you, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Teaching this world, one person at a time, the meaning of the two great commandments is a mission upon which I have set myself years ago and one that I must once again take up renewing my energy with strength and courage. The next generation will lead in a very different world, but a world, that is no less under the sovereign watchful eye of the God of the universe. The efficacy of Christ’s work on the cross is not fading. It is and will be as powerful as it was in the days of the early church.

So, at least for the moment, I must focus my energies on building up the next generation and put aside the civilian cares of this world, pressing on to the mark of the high calling to which we have all been called.

In the picture with this post you’ll see a sword and a trowel. Nehemiah took on the mission to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. His workers needed a sword to defend themselves from the attackers and a trowel to continue building the wall. Nehemiah 4:17-18 says, “Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped to his side while he built.” In the same way we need to be about the business of defending the faith while building up and preparing the next generation to carry on the work to with we have been called.

God bless you all and let’s prepare today’s world for the world to come.

On Worship

How we connect with God is a very personal matter for all of us. It is also a topic that carries with it a great deal of emotional energy. There is so much wrapped up in this activity (yes, worship is a verb) that many people try to find that church and worship experience that provides the mysterious connection with God. Yes, it is a mystery when we are able to hear the Creator, God of the universe, Father Son and Holy Spirit, speak to us and know that He is telling us that He cares for us, wants to hear our heart’s cry and our praise.

The concept of worship is expressed in the Old Testament in the Hebrew language as the word shaha pronounced shaw-khaw’. This word is translated as “worship” 99 times in our English Bibles, 31 times as “bow,” and 18 times as “bow down.” The Webster Unabridged Dictionary provides this definition: “The act of paying divine honors to the Supreme Being; religious reverence and homage; adoration, or acts of reverence, paid to God, or a being viewed as God.” We get from these usages and definitions that worship is an act of humbling ourselves, bowing down to a being, in our case, God, to give him the honor and to revere Him as our Source. 1 Peter 5:6 advises, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

In today’s settings, we gather on Sunday mornings for gatherings labeled as “Worship Services.” Millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of Christians gather each week for worship. Many, if not most, have a firm grasp on the process and purpose of worship, but an increasing number of people can be found church hopping trying to find a worship style that suits them. There are multiple variables in this space, including but not limited to: relevant teaching, deep teaching, expository teaching, the hymns written since the reformation, contemporary songs with a faster beat, music of choruses with repetitive expressions of awe, communion every Sunday, communion periodically to keep it special, taking an offering as part of worship, letting my giving be done in secret either online or placed in boxes around the sanctuary before or after the services, and the list goes on. Still others look to the style of church leadership to be comfortable that the governance is focused on maintaining spiritual growth of the body.

Speaking as a worshiper, I am often convicted that I focus more on my own preferences rather than truly engaging in worship of a holy and righteous God. It would seem that at some point we must set aside the color of the carpet and the dress code of the pastor and focus on the One whom we are there to worship. I have to confess that I too fall victim to my own preferences in worship from time to time. Thankfully, my church provides some options from which to choose so that we are able to worship as a larger community with our preferred expressions, particularly in the area of music. The teaching is consistent and biblical, but the style of music, so influential in aiding our conversation with God and expressing our love and adoration, is varied in different services.

I have become convinced in my own mind that God is musically agnostic. What He loves and wants to hear is the expression of our hearts toward Him. We must focus on the object of our worship first and foremost, while making sure that we are hearing the truth of scripture being rightly divided. We must take the responsibility for validating what we are hearing by searching the scriptures to see whether the things we are hearing from the pulpit are correct.

Family, brothers and sisters, worshiping and bowing down involves humbling ourselves and honoring the One to whom honor is due. Worship is not a time to serve ourselves, let’s cast off the things that so easily beset us and put on the armor of light and give to God the glory, honor, and reverence that is due to Him alone.

“Come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker!” Psalm 95:6

Note to self: Come back to read this periodically for a reminder and attitude adjustment!

Life Priorities

In John 12:25, Jesus says this about our priorities, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” This is an important principle that tells us how we prioritize our lives in this life will determine how we will spend eternity.

Whoever loves his life will lose it – wow, that is a caution for us … in the book of Mark 8:38 in another setting, Jesus says, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” So we can value our lives with our pride and put other relationships, careers, and toys before God now, but know that when it comes time for the final judgement, Jesus will be ashamed, or separate these folks out with the goats in the final judgment. We talked about this over the past few weeks in the context of Psalm 1. This is not new teaching that Jesus brings. This is the truth that God has had from the beginning of time. The first commandment says, we should value no god above the Lord our God. To the extent that we’re ashamed of or deny our relationship with God before men, Christ will deny knowing when we stand before the Father.

Yet, whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone of us serves him, we must follow him and where Christ (God) is there will Christ’s servants be also. Those of us who serve Christ, will be honored by the Father. More powerful and strong words. So why do we have a Bible study? So that we can learn what it is to follow him and serve him.

We need to think about giving up our pride and our personal preferences for what it takes to follow Christ. Now here’s the frequent objection to this line of thinking … this is a one-sided deal, this sounds like I am not allowed to have any fun or have any good or nice things. I don’t think this is what he’s saying. Go back to the beginning of chapter 12 where Mary got out a pound of very expensive ointment, expensive enough that at least one disciple said that she should have sold it for the poor. Jesus didn’t chastise her. Instead he complimented her. Why? Because everything she had belonged to God. She did not hesitate to spend extravagantly to show her love for Jesus. This all becomes a question of who owns our stuff. Are we willing to give what we have to help someone in need? What if God permitted a stock market crash comparable to 1929? How would we navigate those waters? How important are those things to us? In the normal course of life, we depend on those resources, but would our lives end should the banks go out of business? What if the housing market crashed? Many of us are fairly heavily invested in our homes. What happens to our hearts if those values turn to dust?

The questions Christ is asking here, is about our priorities, our values, our confidence, our faith. What is the foundation of our confidence in this life? Is Christ all we need? What about those students at Columbine who were asked whether they were believers, knowing that if they answered affirmative they were dead, and if not, they would live. These are not hypothetical questions. What if our friends began to drift away because of our faith? What if some in our neighborhood, began to distance themselves because of our participation in a Bible study? Friends, I think these are real questions. Now we need to make sure that we don’t become a stumbling block for others, but the time could very well come when some of our friends and neighbors are going to migrate to others who choose a different system of world values.

Much time is spent on the cost of discipleship. In discussions like these, we also need to spend time on the upside of following Jesus. Looking back at Psalm 1 it tells us that “blessed” is the man whose delight is in the word of God and one who meditates on God’s word day and night. I like what the Holman Christian Study Bible says: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners, or join a group of mockers. Instead his delight is in the Lord’s instruction …” This man is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields fruit in its season. In other words, the flip side of losing our lives, should be gaining something. This Psalm tells us that someone who has given his life to Christ is like a strong tree in his community able to bear fruit in season, but also he is one who doesn’t fade at the end of the race (his season), it says his leaf does not wither, but in all that he does he prospers.

This is not some prosperity gospel as is put out by some, this is a man whose desires and joys or delights are in God’s word and the fruit of his strength is bringing wisdom and shade and strength to those around him. The purposes of this man will prosper or bear fruit. Comparing this man to those who choose another path, they are like the chaff that the wind blows away. They may be able to tell you how to make money or how to attain power. Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount, Matt 6:19, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also … No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

In building our homes and our families would we rather not say with the Apostle Paul, “According to the grace of God given to men, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. (our successor generations are building out on the foundations that we have laid) Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it(the final judgment that may seem so far away, but take this to the bank, it is coming), because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”

So then, many of us consider ourselves savvy investors … where would you rather invest your time and your energies? For me and many of my friends, our career working days are pretty much over, but there is lots of opportunity to do work that will count for eternity.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matt 6:33